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1) A new GAO report found the Taliban remain a resilient fighting force and suggested many factors remain in place that will allow the Taliban to survive U.S. efforts to eradicate them, McClatchy reports. The GAO, citing an official from U.S Central Command, said the Taliban are proving resilient as a result of several factors, including “the porous nature of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, the ineffective nature of governance and services in various parts of Afghanistan, assistance from militant groups out of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and continued financial support in the form of narcotics trafficking revenue and funds from outside of the region.”
2) The US, Russia, Britain, France and China voiced support Wednesday for making the Middle East a nuclear-weapons-free zone, which would ultimately force Israel to scrap any atomic arms it has, Reuters reports. Arab states are pushing hard on the issue in exchange for their support in U.S.-led efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
3) Some Japanese lawmakers are going public with their criticism of the way the Obama administration has handled the issue of the Futenma base, The Cable reports. Kuniko Tanioka, a close advisor to Prime Minister Hatoyama, said the government of the US doesn’t seem to be treating Prime Minister Hatoyama as an ally. “The very stubborn attitude of no compromise of the U.S. government on Futenma is clearly pushing Japan away toward China and that is something I’m very worried about.”
4) The US is on the verge of permanently damaging its alliance with Japan in the dispute over Futenma, writes Chalmers Johnson in the Los Angeles Times. The U.S. has become obsessed with maintaining our empire of military bases, which we cannot afford and which an increasing number of so-called host countries no longer want.
5) The CIA received permission to attack suspected militants whose names are not known as part of a dramatic expansion of its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan, the Los Angeles Times reports. The expanded authority permits the agency to rely on what officials describe as “pattern of life” analysis, using evidence collected by surveillance cameras. The information then is used to target suspected militants, even when their full identities are not known. Previously, the CIA was restricted in most cases to killing only individuals whose names were on an approved list. The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits. Some analysts said permitting the CIA to kill individuals whose names are unknown creates a serious risk of killing innocent people. Of more than 500 people who U.S. officials say have been killed since the pace of strikes intensified, the vast majority have been individuals whose names were unknown, or about whom the agency had only fragmentary information.
6) Imprisoned Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Baradar is giving US officials insight into the strategy the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, is developing for negotiations with the government of President Karzai, the New York Times reports. Senior Taliban officials have sought to discount the impact of Mullah Baradar’s detention on their bargaining position. “The Taliban would be ready to negotiate but under our own conditions,” a member of the Afghan Taliban’s supreme command said.
7) President Karzai has accused Washington of trying to undermine his efforts to negotiate with the Taliban, writes Robert Dreyfuss for The Nation. American policy is to shoot now and talk later. But Karzai is right, Dreyfuss says: it’s time to talk to the Taliban now, not later.
8) In the decade since Israelis and Palestinians came close to a peace deal in 2000, the complexion of Jerusalem has been altered, reports Janine Zacharia in the Washington Post. Israeli construction is blurring lines between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, making any future bid to share or divide the city even more difficult than in the past. “Left unattended, within two or three years, enough will happen in Jerusalem that a two-state solution will not be possible,” said Daniel Seidemann, an expert on Jerusalem who has provided informal guidance to U.S. mediators.
9) The murders of seven journalists in Honduras will be investigated this month by a delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Inter Press Service reports. The delegation will also look into reports of harassment and intimidation made by members of the National Popular Resistance Front, which headed up the protests against the overthrow of former president Zelaya.
10) The chief U.N. nuclear official said he is launching a new effort to resolve questions about alleged atomic weapons research by Iranian scientists, the Washington Post reports. Yukiya Amano said he is also pressing Iran for more robust monitoring of a nuclear facility that began producing a higher grade of enriched uranium this year. Amano said Iran has not yet agreed to IAEA requests for a special monitoring regime for its fuel enriched to 20 percent. Talks with Iranian officials in recent days have yielded “some good progress, but we have not had a resolution,” Amano said. He said that the IAEA is monitoring the site but that “our arrangement is not proper as of today.”
11) Colombian radio reported that over 18,200 Colombians went missing during 2009, up from almost 15,700 in 2008, according to an annual report issued by Colombia’s forensics agency, writes Colombia Reports.
12) An expert from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said forced displacement of Colombian citizens increases by 150,000 people a year, writes Colombia Reports. “94% of the displaced live below the poverty line,” the expert said. “We have a huge amount of internally displaced people, there are 3.3 million, which is about 7% of the population,” said Colombia’s Director of National Planning.